By William Casis | FilAm Star Correspondent
Commission on Higher Education Chairwoman Patricia Licuanan went abroad eight times last year without President Duterte’s permission, a party-list lawmaker said.
Deputy majority leader and Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles said that instead of securing her travel authority from the Office of the President (OP), as a 2005 Executive Order (EO) requires, Licuanan made herself the approving authority for her own requests to travel abroad.
The EO requires all members of the Cabinet and officials of equivalent rank to secure their travel authority from the OP.
“Did Licuanan usurp the power of Duterte by approving her own travel authority contrary to EO 459?” Nograles asked.
The Commission on Higher Education is attached to the Office of the President for administrative purposes, covering both public and private higher education institutions as well as degree-granting programs in all post-secondary educational institutions in the country.
Nograles said grave misconduct is defined by the Supreme Court as flagrant disregard of established rules, among others.
He said this can be also a ground for filing of charges against Licuanan before the Office of the Ombudsman, which could hound her even after she retires this year.
Based on documents obtained by his office, Nograles said Licuanan requested seven “official business” travels and one “personal travel” and spent at least PHP 893,102 in government funds.
For one month in June 2017, Licuanan crisscrossed the globe, traveling to California, then France and then Germany, all listed as official business trips.
“She even traveled business class while our President travels economy,” Nograles said.
Nograles said he finds it immaterial if Licuanan’s travels were necessary. He said the law requires her to secure the approval of the President.
“The fact that the requesting official is also the approving official is already irregular. What makes it illegal is that there is a violation of an EO which requires Chairwoman Licuanan to secure her Travel Authority from the Office of the President. She should have sought either the approval of the Executive Secretary or the President himself,” Nograles said.
Nograles admitted however, that unlike the case of Maritime Industry Authority Administrator Marcial Amaro III who was sacked by Duterte for excessive foreign travels, Licuanan is protected by a security of tenure as a “fixed-term” non-career appointee.
“The President cannot just remove Licuanan without cause as this is guaranteed under the Constitution but her latest action where she usurped the authority of the OP could be a basis for her removal or suspension,” Nograles said.
Licuanan approved her own request for travel in:
1. March 29-31, 2017 (to attend as speaker in the High-Level Panel discussion on Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development in Bangkok, Thailand.)
2. June 18-22, 2017 (to attend “high-level meeting” of the Philippine California Advanced Research Institute in California, U.S.A.)
3. June 04-11, 2017 (to participate in the Journée Pays Philippines or Philippine Information Day and visit French Universities in Paris, France)
4. June 26-July 1, 2017 (to attend as speaker of the International DIES Conference Female Leadership and Higher Education management in developing countries in Bonn, Germany)
5. August 29-31, 2017 (study visit to Singapore Polytechnic International in Singapore for the implementation of the advancing Conceive Design, Implement and Operate (CDIO) framework.)
6. October 10-13, 2017 (attend the Asian Dialogue for Innovation forum in Taipei, Taiwan)
7. October 27-November 1 (family vacation to Singapore)
8. November 15-25 (attend the Canadian Bureau of International Education Annual Conference Exhibition in Halifax, Canada)
Licuanan simply laughed off Nograles’ allegations. She said the documents he showed were simply internal documents which were also sent to Malacañang for approval.
“I get a travel authority from the Office of the President for all my travel including personal trips. This is well documented. I issue travel authorities for all our officials but not for myself,” Licuanan said.
“It appears that what Rep. Nograles shared on his Facebook account as basis for his accusations is the internal Authority to Travel Abroad, which is routinely used to process the funds and is an attachment for securing Malacañang approval,” she added.
Licuanan, whose term ends this year, sent copies to the media of her travel authorities from Malacañang for her eight trips — seven signed by Senior Deputy Executive Sec. Menardo Guevarra, and one signed by Deputy Executive Secretary for General Administration Michael Ong.
Nograles however dismissed claims by Licuanan that she was not the one who approved her requests for “Authority to Travel Abroad” because he was in possession of the documents that proved his allegations.
Nograles earlier made public the copies of Licuanan’s travel requests that were also approved by herself as head of the Commission on Higher Education.